Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Review: Burn Mark by Laura Powell

Huge thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy to review.

Release Date: 7th June 2012

Glory is from a family of witches and lives beyond the law. She is desperate to develop her powers and become a witch herself. Lucas is the son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition—the witches’ mortal enemy—and his privileged life is very different to the forbidden world that he lives alongside.
And then on the same day, it hits them both. Glory and Lucas develop the Fae—the mark of the witch. In one fell stroke, their lives are inextricably bound together, whether they like it or not…

When I first saw the blurb for ‘Burn Mark’ I was incredibly excited – it sounded like it would be an East End London version of Holly Black’s Curse Workers series with some alternative history thrown in for good measure. What it turned out to be was a slow paced, loosely strung narrative that left me bored for the majority of the book.

The concept was absolutely fantastic – but unfortunately it wasn’t particularly well executed. Whilst I don’t demand vast amounts of action to keep me enthralled in a book, I do at least require a little bit of something to keep me interested, and that was where one of the biggest problems came in – there was literally nothing happening for around two thirds of the book. Neither Glory or Lucas were engrossing enough for me to want to just read a book about their day to day existence with the Fae, which was a shame because there were some fantastic ideas contained within the book. Finally when we do get to some momentum with the plot it’s jolting and I actually found it quite unbelievable. By the time we get to teenagers saving the day, I’m usually involved enough in the plot that I don’t care that they are teenagers going in against the big bad, but I was enough on the outskirts of plausibility already with Glory and Lucas that I just sat there shaking my head and bemoaning the fact that they didn’t appear to have a brain cell between them. I wanted to root for them, I wanted to see what awful plots and devious plans they’d uncover, but in reality it was a lot of bumbling around making accidents and them stumbling into plots that weren’t explained or brought in early enough for me to grasp and/or care.

Which actually leaves me feeling quite depressed. I don’t like disliking a book. I don’t like pointing out failures in a review, I want to love it, but when a plot is held together with such unlikeable characters and flawed plot points it leaves me feeling cold.

As I’ve said, I never really warmed to Lucas and Glory which is where a lot of the problems lay. Lucas was an ass. Not so much when we read from his point of view, but from everyone else in the narratives perspective. But he wasn’t an ass for any real reason, he just came across as a spoiled rich boy who had failed to achieve the dynasty set out for him since birth. On the other hand we had Glory, a chav with a grating personality, who never became even remotely likeable for me as a reader. We did have moments of vulnerability between her and Lucas, but they actually seemed completely out of character from the rest of the book. The biggest problem was the lack of drive. If there had been more of a driving force behind the plot then the two main characters would have had less of a hard time of it under the reader’s scrutiny, but was it was with such a slow plot there was very little for them to hang on to.

Part of what slowed the book down so monumentally was the sheer volume of extra information the author was attempting to cram into the book. It was obvious that her research and planning and world building had been truly incredible, but unfortunately instead of then paring down the information into what the reader actually needed to understand the world and the history it was all crammed in as one massive info dump. For example,  a walk down a corridor could turn into not just a walk, but a talk about how that particularly corridor was the setting for one of the biggest witch crimes which brought in the ruling of 1954 and in turn led to revolts up and down the country… When all we really wanted was for the character to get to the other end of the corridor and find out what was going on. (That’s not an example taken from the book but it does give you an idea of the sheer overuse of information that has been crammed in.) It was so frustrating because all that extra information was genuinely interesting, but completely useless in context.

However let’s end on a good note and have a look at the things that I did enjoy. I really loved this idea of witches being treated as second class citizens, of the subtle differences in a world where magic is rife and is blamed for every problem – in a world where the Inquisition rules with an iron fist. Coming on from that I loved the ideas of the Coven’s turning into mobs and the seedy underworld that magic had been forced into. The politics and the intrigues and the rang of jobs available and options to those who had become witches – the idea of it almost being a disease that people were tragically struck down with. It was a really fascinating flip side to the books we’re used to seeing where magic is the coveted prize – the thing that sets people up and apart from the masses. I really loved the world building and the history and I would be genuinely interested to see another book set in this world, but with more of a drive and a focus. There was so much that was good about this book, it was just unfortunate that a lot of it became buried under superfluous extras.

As a book about magic seen from the flip side, with an alternative history and some truly fantastic world building I would definitely recommend it, just be aware of some of the pitfalls going in.

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